The Oak and the Fir Tree: A Christmas Legend

Boniface felling the Donar Oak. Ill.: Heinrich Maria von Hess (1834)

There are many stories of how the fir tree came to symbolize Christmas. Here is one of them:

Saint Boniface (675-754) was born in England, but traveled to what is today Germany to convert the local pagan tribes to Christianity. In 723 or 724, frustrated by the recent converts continued veneration of a giant oak, called Donar’s oak (or Thor’s oak), where they kept carrying out sacrifices, he took up his axe and felled the monstrous tree with one mighty blow. As the tree fell, a beautiful fir tree sprang from its center. 

This tree, Saint Boniface told the people, was a holy tree, the tree of the Christ Child, and its evergreen branches, pointing to heaven, symbolized the promise of eternal life. He then instructed the people to carry a fir tree from the wilderness into their homes at Christmas, surrounding it with gifts as symbols of love and kindness. Thus, the Christmas tree was born.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

2 comments on “The Oak and the Fir Tree: A Christmas Legend

  1. When I cut down an oak tree, the stump is more likely to get overgrown with poison oak.

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